“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” — G.K. Chesterton
Not sure how to beat these dragons. They are too well disguised, and cause harm before we can find them. But here goes.
“Never let a crisis go to waste,” or something close to that was the White House Chief of Staff now Chicago mayor Rham Emmanuel’s counsel to the administration during President Obama’s first term. Well, the left lost little time heeding that advice in the wake of the Newtown murders. By the beginning of the week, left-wing bastions in the media and the blogosphere were fairly reeking from vowel movements about the evil of America’s gun culture. Most of the writing in that vein has the tone and quality of the childish stomping that comes with wanting something one cannot have: in this case, absolute safety and security.
After another mass murder, one commentator observed that the truth is that a small part of the human population is insane, and there is really nothing to be done. This is not merely cursing the darkness. It is possible to explore the universe, ascertain the laws by which it operates, and use that knowledge to manipulate the environment to improve our lot, up to a point anyway. Attempts to manipulate human nature, however, may succeed for the short term, but invariably have undesirable and unintended consequences. There are those who say that human beings have gone to the moon and extended our reach even farther, so why can we not make out children safe at home? The short answer is: because that is where we are.
The production of vast wealth by discovering and applying the laws of nature, has enabled humans to use the resources of the earth to conquer want and provide to the poorest of us comforts of which kings and princes of a not too distant past could only dream. America has been wildly successful, and has to a large part shared that success with the world, so we believe no problem is too big to solve. All we have to do is declare war on it.
Well, the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, and the War on Terror are examples of “wars” of the past half century that have born little fruit, and whose unintended consequences have created more problems than they could possibly solve. I also thought of the other War that has a Nixonian-Johnsonian genesis, that on cancer. That was touted as similar to the moon project as a collective government effort. It so far has not succeeded, though advances have been made. Those advances came because there are external physical laws that were discovered and applied. Not so with the other wars that attempt to control or quell human behavior. The War on Drugs has been an abject failure; anyone who pretends otherwise is a fool. The War on Poverty in many ways made the situation is was supposed to alleviate worse, and the extent poverty has been reduced over the past fifty years, it has been in spite of, not because of it.
Now we might see a declaration of war on guns, or perhaps violence, as anomalous and mind-boggling those concepts might be. This is more of the left’s solution to every perceived ill. Pass a law, and the problem will go away. In the rare instance that it does, several other pop up to take its place. The Hydra lives. The late professor and senator from New York Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed that the central Progressive truth is the politics (or legislation) can change culture while the central conservative truth is that culture changes politics. (Moynihan really meant libertarian, conservatives as a group are as much in love with laws that favor their cultural world view as Progressives are with theirs) History indicates that libertarians have the better argument. In a representative democracy, laws change when the culture does. In more authoritarian regimes, the culture goes underground and acts like a slow-growing tumor.
Writing in the New Yorker, Jill LePore points out that the legislative and judicial branches have only recently given the Second Amendment any attention to speak of. A point she misses is that is true of all of the Constitutional Bill of Rights for the reason that early in our history, they were deemed only to apply to the federal government, not the states. This changed in the 20th Century by what is known as the selective incorporation of those rights into the meaning of the 14th Amendment. It is more than a little ironic that persuading the courts to apply the Bill of Rights, which included the inconvenient right to bear arms, to the states, and expansively, was mostly a project of the left.
The Framers of the Constitution generally left the states, and local governments, to decide what is the best public policy for public safety. This – called the police power – was denied to the federal government, as it was not one of the delegated powers. Even though the Commerce Clause, as well as the spending power, has been commandeered as a vehicle to justify national health and safety legislation, this is still primarily a state issue. It seems preferable to allowing the Congress to institute a central planning system, like those that worked so well in Soviet Russia and Maoist China. But if we must have our government intrude upon what have been recognized as fundamental rights, and state and local prerogatives, I put forth a few suggestions with regard to firearms.
Arming teachers and other school staff members is probably not a good idea. The training necessary and the additional responsibility would be too burdensome, and many would not want to have it. Furthermore, many really good teachers, particularly those with younger students, do not have the temperament to engage an armed troublemaker. But neither are the “gun-free” zones – better termed “free-fire” or “open season” zones – both at schools and other places currently covered. Anyone who has a permit or license to carry a concealed handgun should be permitted to do so at schools, churches, hospitals, et cetera. Concealed carry background checks and training classes are a good gate-keeping method to determine who should and should not be allowed to carry concealed weapons. Requirement of a training class itself tends to weed out emotionally unsuited persons. Instructors are, or should be, given training and clues to watch for that suggest persons might have mental or emotional instability. The hassle of wending one’s way through the application itself seems to tend to discourage unstable personalities.
One friend, as well as Dallas Morning News columnist Steve Blow, suggests that all schools could hire the equivalent of sky marshals; men and women who are highly trained and proficient in the use of all manner of weapons, and preferably have military combat experience. Not your average security guard, these school marshals, if you will, could be off-duty police officers, or full time employees. They could roam the halls wearing plain clothes, perhaps a business suit or the feminine equivalent, befriend the kids, be a source of advice and information, and, when and if the time comes, efficiently take out a threat posed to the school by an intruder. Anyone showing up wearing a ninja suit, or displaying weapons, would be dead on arrival – no nonsense tolerated. I hasten to add that fair warning should be given that such costumes of menace constitute prima facie evidence of intent to harm. This would cost, but public school budgets contain all kinds of useless and idiotic crap anyway. Here in Dallas, our new school superintendent is lavishing princely salaries on any number of new administrators who make up his “cabinet.” I am sure he could find money to pay combat experts to keep the kids safe.
Another colleague suggests some legislation that would help, and be a correct balance between fundamental rights and enhanced safety. Mandate the same requirements to purchase and possess a semi-automatic military style rifle or a high capacity magazine as most states have for concealed handgun licenses, with intensive training on safe-storage. I would take this a step further and impose tort, and perhaps criminal, liability on someone who intentionally, knowingly, or negligently allows a person to obtain one of these kind of weapons and harms someone. There is precedent for this. Negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle is actionable if someone is harmed thereby. Also, a liability insurance requirement for owners of these weapons, could be considered. Perhaps this kind of requirement would have motivated Nancy Lanza to better secure her cache of weapons.
Perhaps her disturbed son could have gotten to them anyway. Now we come to the other factor.
Mentally disturbed young men are a common denominator in the mass shootings. But how can they be identified. The truth is, until they commit a crime, or display specific grossly anti-social behavior, they can’t be. There’s nothing that can be done without infringing on protected liberty interests. Anyway, I have known a lot of weird people in my time on this earth. Nearly every one has turned out to be harmless, though some were really obnoxious. One possible approach to this conundrum was suggested by Holman Jenkins in the December 19, 2012 issue of the Wall Street Journal. Jenkins cites some success in curtailing workplace violence by paying attention to festering frustration and anti-social behavior, and taking threats seriously.
Some contend that the only way to provide safe is to eliminate guns in private hands entirely. How can that be done? It is now clear that the Constitution protects a fundamental right to keep and bear arms.
What about passing a Constitutional Amendment repealing the right to bear arms and then confiscating all the guns? Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson suggests just that, but he lives and writes in a fantasy world on this and other issues. Assuming it were possible to propose and ratify such an Amendment, which is isn’t, we still run afoul of the Constitutional prohibition against taking private property without due process of law. Assuming we propose and can obtain ratification of an Amendment to take care of that, we might couple such an effort with one to confiscate all of the illegal drugs out there while we’re at it. The success of the 18th Amendment gives us some clue how that would work. Come on.
The President asked the other day whether this profoundly sad event was the price of our freedom. It very well might be. Human beings are not perfectible, at least not with the present state of the art in this world. Many believe in another world to come; some do not. We can only hope. In the meantime there are those with demons of one sort or another with us. There is no easy solution. We, alas, do not live in a perfect world, and never will on this earth.